All the Chinook salmon reports for the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia have not been good this year, which is not good news for our resident killer whales. All three Southern Resident pods have been traveling together lately, and for most of this month they've only been make brief appearances near San Juan Island, usually for less than a day, before heading back out the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Hopefully they're finding fish somewhere - when we have seen them, they've looked pretty fat and happy as far as I can tell - but that means resident orca sightings in August have been pretty low here in the Salish Sea.
Last night, I heard the whales were all heading east through the Strait, but when I thought of heading out to the west side early this morning, I guessed the whales were probably going to be heading west again. I guessed wrong! Luckily, my friend Katie gave me a head's up this morning, and I think I made it out the door in record time.
When I got to Land Bank, most of the superpod had already gone north, but I got to see the last big group of whales pass through. The first whale I saw was J26 Mike, the adult male in the photo below, and some other J-Pod whales including J16 Slick and J27 Mike. This looks like a black and white photo, but it isn't!
On the next surfacing I saw some L-Pod whales, which made it apparent the groups were all mixed up. It's always fun in these situations to see who is traveling with whom.
|From left to right: L92 Crewser, L95 Nigel, L105 Fluke, L72 Racer|
In addition to the whales in the photos above, also present in this trailing group were the rest of the L26s (L26 and L90) and the L47s (L47, L83, L91, L110, and L115).
|L92 Crewser and his mom L26 Baba|
Figuring there were lots of whales up ahead of these guys, I went up to San Juan County Park where indeed large groups of active whales were heading north well offshore. It's hard to capture in a photo the sight of so many whales surfacing one right after the other, but here are a few shots that try to give a sense of what it was like:
It was nice to see the whales early enough that there were no whale-watching boats around them, but Haro Strait is a busy place any time of day or night. These big freighters are always passing through, and I can only imagine what it's like for the whales to have to listen to them as much as they do. Kind of hard to see the whale in this small version, so you can click for a larger view:
It looked like the whales were going to continue north, so I headed back to town, but about an hour later I heard the whales had flipped and were coming back south. I was hoping they would stick around long enough to make a trip up the Fraser River, but I guess they decided there weren't enough salmon to go check it out. So it was back to the west side in a rush for the second time this morning, this time to Lime Kiln Point State Park.
Keith decided to come with me this time, and when we arrived, there were whale watch boats visible in the distance to the north. We settled down for what turned out to be a pretty breezy, chilly wait, but there were interesting things to look at in the meantime like this pair of immature oystercatchers (notice the black on the ends of their otherwise red bills - again click for a larger view):
The first three whales to pass by were K21 Cappuccino, K16 Opus, and K36 Sonata. Noticeably absent was Cappuccino's sister K40 Raggedy. The two are normally inseparable, so I don't have a good feeling about her whereabouts. At least Cappuccino seems to have another little family group to travel with, so he's not completely alone.
|K21 Cappuccino (right)|
For a moment it looked like these would be the only whales to head south, where apparently the L12 sub-group was slowly heading north to meet them. (The L12s were apparently the only whales not to go north this morning. It sounded like all the other whales were there, with the exception of maybe the L2s and L54s who I didn't hear anything about.) All the whales to the north were milling about in indecision, but then the rest of K-Pod decided to follow Cappuccino and the others. It was a nice little who's-who of K-Pod, with all the whales passing by in their family groups, giving me a chance to ID every whale in the pod as they went by without needing photos - something I haven't done in quite a while! Of course I still took photos though....
|K22 Sekiu and her son K33 Tika, now a sprouter male at age 11|
|Sequim's youngest two offspring: K37 Rainshadow (right) and K43 Saturna (age 2- center)|
After the K12s came the K14s, and then the K13s followed up a little behind that.
|K20 Spock and K38 Comet|
It was nice to get a good look at the youngest member of K-Pod, calf K44, who will get his name next month now that he's survived a full year.
K25 Scoter, a 21 year-old male, has long been thought of as a bit of a runt as far as adult males go, since his dorsal fin has remained so short. It seems like he may just be a late bloomer, however, as it sure looked to me like his fin had started to grow a little bit. It's hard to tell here with no other whales to compare him to, though:
As Ks continued south, there was another huge group of whales visible offshore to the north, presumably the rest of L-Pod and all of J-Pod. It didn't look good for them sticking around for long, as they were several miles offshore and heading southwest, looking a lot like they were going to go right past Discovery Island and back out the Strait. I guess we'll have to wait and see! Wherever they go, I hope they're finding enough to eat!
To end with, a quick note about the year list which has reactivated after almost two months of no new species added. On a boat ride through San Juan Channel last weekend I saw my first few Bonaparte's gulls (211) of the year, and then yesterday at Fourth of July Beach I saw my first western sandpipers (212) of the year. I have no idea how western sandpiper fell all the way to #212, other than that I'm sure some of the unidentifiable peeps I've seen this year were probably westerns, but that wasn't good enough to count them until now, when I got a good look for sure. Hard to believe, now that we've finally been getting a nice stretch of summery weather, that the fall migration is well underway, but I also saw my first huge flocks of scoters and horned grebes yesterday! Autumn is right around the corner, but here's to hoping for some more good whale sightings before the season is done.